Why Do We Expect Recycling to Pay for Itself, When Landfills Don't?
We pay for trash to be taken away—we all accept that and pay our bill. What do we, as a society, get in return for our payment? Just the convenience of not having to think about it anymore.
When markets for recyclable materials are strong, recycling is a money saver or a money maker. We “sell” the idea of recycling based on its economic benefit (of course, legislation has helped tremendously in creating the markets).
However, there have been times when the markets for recyclable materials drop and the economics of recycling collapse. Then, as market conditions change, recycling becomes financially viable again. The trend has been generally growing in economic favor for the recycling industry, punctuated by unfavorable periods.
It’s time we stop trying to sell recycling as an idea that should always pay for itself. We get very little in return for landfilling. In fact, we get health and environmental hazards, greenhouse gas emissions, and few jobs.
Recycling, on the other hand, makes good use of resources while creating new industries and 10 times more jobs than landfilling. It also reduces pollution and greenhouse emissions, saves energy and water, and reduces the need to extract raw materials.
Isn’t all that worth more than putting our resources in the ground?
Shouldn’t we—instead of making trash service mandatory, and having people pay for it, and making recycling a secondary service—focus first on recycling and composting, and make garbage service secondary?
We’d definitely get more bang for our buck. We would all enjoy more economic prosperity, and a healthier place to live.
Ilonka is an Environmental Scientist with CalRecycle’s Policy Development and Analysis Office.